Rogue FBI Twitter Bot dumps months of FOIAs, causing controversy

On Oct. 30, a long-quiet FBI Twitter account began releasing a torrent of links to documents on the bureau’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) library server. Among the documents were several from the investigation into former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of a private e-mail server and a decade-old investigation into the Clinton Foundation over a pardon given by President Bill Clinton at the end of his term. According to an FBI official, the flood of tweets occurred because of a backlog of updates dating to June. The logjam finally broke when a content management system software patch was installed last week.

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>William J. Clinton Foundation: This initial release consists of material from the FBI’s files related to the Will… <a href=””></a></p>&mdash; FBI Records Vault (@FBIRecordsVault) <a href=”″>November 1, 2016</a></blockquote>

The timing of the releases—which also included documents from the investigation of former CIA director David Patraeus for leaking classified information and links to video surveillance from the 2015 protests in Baltimore—drew speculation from many on Twitter that someone at the FBI was trying to damage the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton in the final weeks before Election Day. In response to an initial inquiry by Ars, the FBI sent the following statement:

The FBI’s Records Management Division receives thousands of FOIA requests annually which are processed on a first-in, first-out (FIFO) basis. By law, FOIA materials that have been requested three or more times are posted electronically to the FBI’s public reading room shortly after they are processed. Per the standard procedure for FOIA, these materials became available for release and were posted automatically and electronically to the FBI’s public reading room in accordance with the law and established procedures.

That, however, did not explain the mass of FOIA document tweets beginning on Oct. 30, which also included a number of seemingly random documents, including files from an investigation into inventor Nikola Tesla. Some news outlets, including the politically liberal site ThinkProgress, reported that the FBI had launched an “internal investigation” into the tweets.

An FBI official told Ars today that the tweets had, in fact, prompted an internal review of procedures, not an actual investigation. The problem was traced back to the software that handles automated Twitter posts within the FBI Vault site’s content management system. The documents linked in the Twitter posts that were already queued for posting dated back several months. When the software was updated, the backlog was suddenly, automatically, cleared in a spew of tweets.

Of course, there was also one Trump-related tweet amongst the dump as well:

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Fred C. Trump: Fred C. Trump (1905-1999) was a real estate developer and philanthropist. This release consists of… <a href=””></a></p>&mdash; FBI Records Vault (@FBIRecordsVault) <a href=”″>October 30, 2016</a></blockquote>

The characterization of Donald Trump’s father in the tweet (“real estate developer and philanthropist”) did nothing to dispel conspiracy theories.


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